Legal Daily News Feature
Globalization: Buzzword or Reality for Law Firms? By Rebecca E. Neely Markets are becoming increasingly globalized and companies across the board are investing in emerging markets around the world, including law firms. However, the many differences that exist between U.S. and foreign legal standards, regulations, practices and other areas are, in many cases, proving to be major barriers.
11/05/11 As an example, according to the November 1st abajournal.com article, “Despite Globalization, Lawyers Find New Barriers to Practicing Abroad” Lisa A. Alfaro is the partner in charge of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Sao Paulo office in Brazil, and she co-chairs the Latin America practice group. As well, she speaks both Portuguese and Spanish fluently, and holds dual licensure in California and New York. However, even despite all of her credentials, she is forbidden to counsel clients on Brazilian law, as per rules established by Brazil’s national bar association. She was quoted in the abajournal.com article as saying: “The fact that we can’t practice locally is certainly the largest challenge we face. I make it clear to each client that they have to talk to the Brazil counsel about an issue, even if I am upto-date on the law.” Furthermore, an opinion affirmed in February by the Sao Paulo chapter of Brazil’s national bar association, initially issued in 2010, could prove to make it even more challenging for foreign attorneys such as Alfaro to work hand in hand with local attorneys. Per the article, it is “unethical for Brazilian lawyers to create any kind of formal alliance with foreign legal consultants”; these consultants are “not actually lawyers under Brazilian regulations, so alliances with them would violate Brazil’s ban on multidisciplinary practice.” Should the national bar endorse said opinion, it would serve to force clients to use only local attorneys for counsel on Brazilian law, and at the same time, allow foreign firms to provide counsel on matters relating only to non-Brazilian law. Actions such as this seem to draw a proverbial line in the sand, and appear to directly contradict the very essence of
globalization, and the unified front it seemingly purports to embrace. The question is, how will law firms be able to overcome these differences? Essentially, the proliferation of technology has irrevocably changed the face of clients and the legal profession around the world. However, by the same token this change has also served to rapidly outpace the ability of the legal profession, worldwide, to address both the profession’s, and client’s needs as rapidly, due largely to the lack of uniform standards and regulations relating to both ethics and practice. Glenn P. Hendrix, managing partner at Arnall Golden Gregory in Atlanta and chair of the ABA Task Force on International Trade in Legal Services was quoted as saying in the abajournal.com article: “Globally, major markets are opening up. The outside world is banging at the doors of just about every country in the world. The question is, how does the local legal profession respond? Every country is asking the big questions: ‘Is globalization a threat or an opportunity? If we liberalize rules of practice for foreign lawyers, does it help or hurt us?’ ” Some countries make it much easier to practice within their boundaries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. In addition, per the article, countries including Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Mongolia, are embracing foreign legal activity as a means of investing in their economies. However, interestingly, many of the most prohibitive policies affecting foreign attorneys are in the four of the world’s biggest and fastest growing economies, using the measure of gross domestic product. They are: Brazil, Russia, India and China; a.k.a. the BRIC countries. The United States is the world’s largest national economy, and it tends to fall somewhere between these two extremes.
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Legal Daily News Feature
Looking forward, the legal profession recognizes the need to address these issues. The ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 is spearheading one part of the effort; its purpose is to study the impact of technology and globalization on professional conduct rules for lawyers in the United States, and per the article, is planning to “submit proposed revisions to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct for consideration by the association’s policymaking House of Delegates in August at the 2012 annual meeting in Chicago.”
In the end, the true measure of success will be, unarguably, whether the client is best served. It would seem the client having access to a multi-faceted approach, as is offered by attorneys such as Alfaro, and to the breadth of experience and knowledge as offered by an established firm such as Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, could only benefit the client. If both law firms and attorneys around the world are able to balance opportunity, profitability and client satisfaction, along with the need for regulation, perhaps globalization can become not just a buzzword, but a reality.
Published on Aug 22, 2012
Markets are becoming increasingly globalized and companies across the board are investing in emerging markets around the world, including la...